There is a new Black billionaire on the Forbes list, and it’s not Michael Jordan. His name is a Robert F. Smith. He is listed at no. 268 on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Americans, with a $2.5 billion fortune. Smith runs Vista Equity Partners, an Austin, Texas-based firm with $15.9 billion in client assets.
Unlike Jordan and Oprah Winfrey, the other Black billionaires on the list, Smith made his money in the world of investments, not sports and entertainment. According to Forbes, Vista invests in companies that design software that keep businesses running. Over the last 15 years, the firm has invested in companies in the fields of cybersecurity, property and casualty insurance and advertising. Vista’s investments often yield a 30 percent annual return and Smith owns a 50 percent stake in the company, which was recently valued at $4.3 billion.
Smith first discovered his love of technology as a high school student in Denver where he was fascinated by computers and transistors. Transistors had been invented by Bell Labs and through dogged persistence Smith managed to secure a summer internship there.
“I ran my own race. I knew what I wanted, and my persistence paid off, and I came in and interviewed. They liked me, and I got the internship,” Smith said during a commencement address at American University. “In fact, I worked there for the next four years during summer and winter breaks.”
Smith earned a chemical engineering degree from Cornell, and worked at Kraft Foods, before dropping out of Columbia Business School to work for Goldman Sachs. At Goldman Sachs, he worked in the New York and Silicon Valley offices. After six years at Goldman Sachs, Smith shocked his co-workers by striking out on his own and launching Vista in 2000.
If you’ve never heard of Smith that’s deliberate. He stays in the background, although he did hit the headlines when he married model, fashion editor and former Playboy Playmate of the Year, Hope Dworaczyk. The wedding was a lavish affair that included musical performances by Seal and John Legend, according to Business Insider.
Smith has quietly donated to African causes and causes that support the Black community. Forbes reported he has also made donations to Hillary Clinton, although he donated to the GOP in 2012.
Smith also attended President Barack Obama’s first inauguration with his grandfather, a former postal worker who also worked as a coat check clerk at the U.S. Senate. Smith’s grandfather remembered he was one of the few Black people at Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration. Smith said he wasn’t surprised at the progress Black people have made.
“We are only bound by the limits of our own conviction,” he said.“We can transcend the script of a pre-defined story, and pave the way for the future that we design. We just need to tap that power, that conviction, that determination within us.”